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Provincial NDP calling for changes in light of strike

FREDERICTON (CUP) — The New Brunswick NDP is calling for changes to how universities are run in the province.

In light of the University of New Brunswick’s (UNB) recent strike, the party is proposing a Student Protection Act and changes to how universities are audited and how administration is paid. The Student Protection Act would be legislation that guarantees a refund of tuition and housing fees if a work stoppage shuts down classes for more than five days. It would also require universities to provide make-up instruction at no additional cost to students who may not complete their program due to a work stoppage.

“There’s absolutely no reason why students should be the only group who are legally allowed to be charged for something and not receive it,” said Kelly Lamrock, the provincial NDP candidate for Fredericton-South. “That doesn’t mean education is a commodity, but it still doesn’t mean somebody should be allowed to take your money for something and not give it to you.”

The NDP is also calling for universities’ audits to be completed by the provincial auditor general. Lamrock said this idea also was spawned from the UNB strike.

“The things that seemed to prolong here is that parties spent a good week and a half with fact statements that almost seemed to be from two different planets,” Lamrock said. “Having a neutral source of information . . . that would set the record straight right from the outset would probably help get to the point where [an agreement is reached] quicker.”

The party is also wants university administration salaries to be based on the public sector wage scale, like in British Columbia.

“There’s no question, we need to be competitive to attract top talent to teach,” Lamrock said. “An overall public sector comparability would allow us to know exactly where the market is, so that we are constantly competitive, and offers government some predictability in funding.”

Pat Joyce, executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, said it’s good to see a move for accountability in universities. However, they need to hear the details.

“It’s always good to see folks starting discussions about how administrators are compensated and how there’s oversight for university spending,” Joyce said. “We look forward to seeing some of the specifics and what this means when it comes to the autonomy of universities.”

Joyce also said implementing these policies could be challenging.

“I think that you’d have to navigate the balance between the role the province plays in overseeing universities and making sure they’re being held accountable, and balancing that with the autonomy universities have,” he said.

However, Lamrock said putting these rules in place would be simple.

“After all, about 50 to 60 per cent of the budget for universities comes from the government. Government has some authority to direct basic rules and regulation and attach a condition to that funding,” he said. “The rest is just desire to research and compile statistics in the right way.”

He also said the policies would not be costly to execute.

“They’re not expensive propositions,” Lamrock said. “Rather than government sitting back and reacting when there’s a strike, [we’re] deciding that we’re going to put the right system in place to protect everybody.”

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